Chapter 23 Summary
Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India had opened the way to the East for Europeans, but its initial impact was greater for Europe than for Asia. Europeans had little to offer Asians in exchange for their desired products. Asians were not interested in converting to Christianity, and their states were too strong to be conquered. Asian civilizations developed according to their own diverse internal workings and the influences of neighboring states and peoples. Only the islands of southeast Asia were vulnerable to European naval power.
The Asian Trading World and the Coming of the Europeans. The first Portuguese arriving in India discovered that their products, apart from silver bullion, were too primitive for profitable exchange for Asian goods. They saw that Muslim traders dominated the Indian Ocean and southern Asian commerce, and that Islam blocked the spread of Roman Catholicism. The Europeans also noticed that political divisions divided Asians, who did not understand the threat posed by the new intruders. The trading network stretched from the Middle East and Africa to east Asia and was divided into three main zones. An Arab division in the West offered glass, carpet, and tapestry manufacturing. In the center was India, producing cotton textiles. China, in the East, manufactured paper, porcelain, and silk textiles. Peripheral regions in Japan, southeast Asia, and east Africa supplied raw materials. Among the latter were ivory from Africa and spices from Sri Lanka and Indonesia. In the overall system, profits were gained from commerce in both long-distance luxury items and shorter-distance bulk goods. Most of the trade passed along safer coastal routes, converging in vital intersections at the openings of the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, and the Straits of Malacca. The system had two critical characteristics: no central control and a lack of military forces.
Trading Empire: The Portuguese Response to the Encounter at Calicut. Since they did not have sufficient acceptable commodities for profitable trade to Asia, the Portuguese used force to enter the network. Their ships and weaponry were unmatched, except by the Chinese. Taking advantage of the divisions between Asians, the Portuguese won supremacy along the African and Indian coasts. They won an important victory over an Egyptian-Indian fleet at Diu in 1509. To ensure control, forts were constructed along the Asian coast: Ormuz on the Persian Gulf in 1507, Goa in western India in 1510, and Malacca on the Malayan peninsula. The Portuguese aimed to establish a monopoly over the spice trade and, less successfully, to license all vessels trading between Malacca and Ormuz.
Portuguese Vulnerability and the Rise of the Dutch and English Trading Empires. The Portuguese had limited success for some decades, but the small nation lacked the manpower and ships necessary for market control. Many Portuguese ignored their government and traded independently, while rampant corruption among officials and losses of ships further hampered success. Dutch and English rivals challenged the weakened Portuguese in the 17th century. The Dutch captured Malacca and built a fort at Batavia in Java in 1620. They decided to concentrate on monopolizing key spices. The English were forced to fall back to India. The Dutch trading empire resembled that of the Portuguese, but their ships were better armed, and they controlled their monopoly with great efficiency. The Dutch discovered that the greatest long-run profits came from peacefully exploiting the established system. When the spice trade declined, they relied on fees charged for transporting products from one Asian place to another. They also bought Asian products and sold them within the system. The English later adopted Dutch techniques.
Going Ashore: European Tribute Systems in Asia. Europeans were able to control Asian seas, but not inland territories. The vast Asian armies offset European technological and organizational advantages. Thus, Europeans accepted the power of Asian rulers in return for permission to trade. Only in a few regions did war occur. The Portuguese and Dutch conquered coastal areas of Sri Lanka to control cinnamon. In Java, the Dutch expanded from their base at Batavia to dominate coffee production. By the mid-18th century, they were the paramount power in Java. In the Philippines, the Spanish conquered the northern islands but failed in the Islamic South. The Europeans established tribute regimes resembling the Spanish system in the New World. Indigenous peoples lived under their own leaders and paid tribute in products produced by coerced labor under the direction of local elites.
Spreading the Faith: The Missionary Enterprise in South and Southeast Asia. The Protestant Dutch and English were less interested in winning converts than were Roman Catholic Portugal and Spain. Success in Asia was minimal. Islam and Hinduism were difficult foes. During the 1660s, the Italian Jesuit Robert Di Nobli unsuccessfully attempted to win converts among upper-caste members through the study of Sanskrit and Indian culture. General conversion occurred only in isolated regions, such as the northern Philippines. Once conquered, the government turned indigenous peoples over to missionary orders. Converted Filipino leaders led their peoples into European ways, but traditional beliefs remained strong within the converts’ Catholicism.
Ming China: A Global Mission Refused. The Ming dynasty (1368–1644) ruled over the earth’s most populous state. China possessed vast internal resources and advanced technology. Its bureaucracy remained the best organized in the world, and its military was formidable. The dynasty emerged when Zhu Yuanzhang, a military commander of peasant origins, joined in the revolts against the Mongols and became the first Ming emperor, taking the name Hongwu, in 1368. Zhu strived to drive out all Mongol influences and drove the remaining nomads beyond the Great Wall.
Another Scholar-Gentry Revival. The poorly educated Zhu was suspicious of the scholar-gentry, but he realized that their cooperation was necessary for reviving Chinese civilization. They were given high government posts, and imperial academies and regional colleges were restored. The civil service exam was reinstated and expanded. The highly competitive examination system became more systematic and complex, allowing only the most talented, ambitious individuals to become eligible for the highest posts.
Reform: Hongwu’s Efforts to Root Out Abuses in Court Politics. Hongwu sought to limit the influence of the scholar-gentry and to check other abuses at the court. He abolished the post of chief minister and transferred to himself the considerable powers of the office. Officials failing in their tasks were publicly and harshly beaten. Other reforms included choosing imperial wives from humble families, limiting the number of eunuchs, and exiling all rivals for the throne to provincial estates. Writings displeasing to the ruler were censored. Later rulers of the dynasty let the changes lapse.
A Return to Scholar-Gentry Social Dominance. Hongwu sought to improve the lives of the peasantry through public works that aided agriculture, opening new and untaxed lands, lowering forced-labor demands, and promoting handicraft industries supplementing household incomes. The beneficial effects of the measures were offset by the growing power of rural landlords allied with the imperial bureaucracy. Peasants were forced to become tenants or landless laborers. The Ming period continued the subordination of women to men, and youths to elders. Draconian laws forced obedience. Nonconforming activities, including those of women, had to go underground. Imperial women continued to be influential, especially with weak emperors. Outside the court, women were confined to the household; their status hinged on bearing male children. Upper-class women might be taught reading and writing by their parents, but they were barred from official positions. Nonelite women worked in many occupations, but the main way to gain independence was to become a courtesan or entertainer.
An Age of Growth: Agriculture, Population, Commerce, and the Arts. The early Ming period was one of buoyant economic growth and unprecedented contacts with overseas civilizations. The commercial boom and population increase of late Song times continued. The arrival of American food crops allowed cultivation in marginal agricultural areas. By 1800, there were over 300 million Chinese. Chinese-manufactured goods were in demand throughout Asia and Europe, and Europeans were allowed to come to Macao and Canton to do business. Merchants gained significant profits, a portion of them passing to the state as taxes and bribes. Much of the wealth went into land, the best source of social status. The fine arts found generous patrons. Painters focused on improving established patterns. Major innovation came in literature with the full development of the novel, assisted by an increase in the availability of books through the spread of woodblock printing.
Ming Expansion and Retreat, and the Arrival of the Europeans. Under Emperor Yunglo, between 1405 and 1423 the Ming sent a series of expeditions to southeast Asia, Persia, Arabia, and east Africa under the command of Zheng He. The huge fleets of large ships demonstrated a Chinese potential for global expansion unmatched by other contemporary nations. However, after the end of the Zheng He expeditions, the Chinese developed a policy of isolation. In 1390, the first decree limiting overseas commerce appeared, and the navy was allowed to decline. Europeans naturally were drawn to the great empire. Missionaries sought access to the court. Franciscans and Dominicans worked to gain converts among the masses; the Jesuits followed the strategy di Nobili used in India, trying to win the court elite. They recognized that scientific and technical knowledge were the keys to success at the court. Jesuits like Matteo Ricci and Adam Schall displayed such learning, but they won few converts among the hostile scholar-gentry who considered them mere barbarians.
Thinking Historically: Means and Motives in Overseas Expansion: Europe and China Compared. Why did the Chinese, unlike Europeans, withdraw from overseas expansion? The small nation-states of Europe, aggressively competing with their neighbors, made more efficient use of their resources. European technological innovations gave them an advantage in animal and machine power that helped them prevail over China’s superiority in other areas. One answer to the differing approaches can be seen in the attitudes of the groups favoring expansion in each society. There was wide support in general European society for increasing national and individual wealth through successful expansion. Christian leaders sought new converts. Zheng He’s voyages were the result of an emperor’s curiosity and desire for personal greatness. Merchants, already profiting from existing commerce, were little interested. The scholar-gentry opposed the expeditions as a danger to their position and as a waste of national resources.
Ming Decline and the Chinese Predicament. By the late 1500s, the dynasty was in decline. Inferior imperial leadership allowed increasing corruption and hastened administrative decay. The failure of public works projects, especially on the Yellow River, caused starvation and rebellion. Exploitation by landlords increased the societal malaise. In 1644, the dynasty fell to Chinese rebels.
Fending Off the West: Japan’s Reunification and the First Challenge. During the 16th century, an innovative and fierce leader, Nobunaga, one of the first daimyos to make extensive use of firearms, rose to the forefront among the contesting lords. He deposed the last Ashikaga shogun in 1573, but he was killed in 1582 before finishing his conquests. Nobunaga’s ablest general, Toyotomo Hideyoshi, continued the struggle and became master of Japan by 1590. Hideyoshi then launched two unsuccessful invasions of Korea. He died in 1598. Tokugawa Ieyasu won out in the ensuing contest for succession. In 1603, the emperor appointed him shogun. The Tokugawas continued in power for two and a half centuries. Ieyasu, ruling from Edo (Tokyo), directly controlled central Honshu and placed the remaining daimyos under his authority. Gradually, outlying daimyos were also brought under Tokugawa’s rule. The long period of civil wars had ended; political unity was restored.
Dealing with the European Challenge. European traders and missionaries had visited Japan in increasing numbers since 1543. The traders exchanged Asian and European goods—the latter including firearms, clocks, and printing presses—for Japanese silver, copper, and artisan products. The firearms, which the Japanese soon manufactured themselves, revolutionized local warfare. Roman Catholic missionaries arrived during Nobunaga’s campaigns. He protected them as a counterforce to his Buddhist opponents. By the 1580s, the Jesuits claimed hundreds of thousands of converts. Hideyoshi was less tolerant of Christianity. The Buddhists had been crushed, and he feared that converts would give primary loyalty to their religion. Hideyoshi also feared that Europeans might try to conquer Japan.
Japan’s Self-Imposed Isolation. Official measures to restrict foreign influence were ordered from the late 1580s. Christian missionaries were ordered to leave; persecution of indigenous Christians was underway during the mid-1590s. Christianity was officially banned in 1614. Continued persecution provoked unsuccessful rebellions and drove the few remaining Christians underground. Ieyasu and his successors broadened the campaign to isolate Japan from outside influences. From 1616, merchants were confined to a few cities; by 1630, Japanese ships could not sail overseas. By the 1640s, only Dutch and Chinese ships visited Japan to trade at Deshima Island. Western books were banned. The retreat into isolation was almost total by the mid-17th century. The Tokugawa continued expanding their authority. During the 18th century, the revival of neo-Confucian philosophy that had flourished under the early Tokugawas gave way to a school of National Learning based on indigenous culture. Some of the elite, in strong contrast to the Chinese scholar-gentry, continued to follow with avid interest Western developments through the Dutch residents in Deshima.